Remixer, Collaborator, Innovator: Welcome to R3HAB
In his project Everything Is A Remix, filmmaker Kirby Furgason makes a good point on the notion of innovation. “I think everything is a remix,” he says, “and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.” It’s a statement that Dutch-Moroccan DJ and producer R3HAB would likely resonate with. He exemplifies innovation through re-orchestration, and has built a career as one of the world’s most successful electronic music acts by embracing a shared creative process. It’s a career that’s seen him build global recognition through a network of collaborators and connections, and one that has made R3HAB one of the most recognisable names in dance music. He’s become a mainstay on DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs list and on lineups across the world. He’s played nearly every major dance music festival, appearing at the likes of Coachella, Tomorrowland, and Ultra while his albums Trouble and The Wave have racked up hundreds of millions of streams. Over eight billion in total, to be exact. As one of the most in demand acts in dance music today, he often seems to be everywhere at once.
It’s no surprise then that scheduling a time to speak with the heavyweight proved to be a challenge. We had initially attempted to converse over Zoom, but as can be expected when dealing with actual superstars, our schedules just wouldn’t sync. We settled for corresponding over email, and what became apparent is that R3HAB is an artist who is constantly in motion. When speaking about his work, you get the sense that you’re speaking to someone who is innately in tune with his creative process, and someone who is constantly pushing himself to be at the top of his game. His success hasn’t been without naysayers, however. In particular, he’s drawn criticism for his near constant stream of releases. Already in the time between speaking with R3HAB and this interview being published, he’s dropped a handful of remixes and a new single with Laidback Luke, Weekend On A Tuesday. It’s a strategy critics and peers alike have argued comes at the cost of quality, though his immense and ever growing streaming presence begs to differ. “But dance music is my passion, I’ve built my life around it, so I’ve learned to maximise my time around creating,” he says when we ask about his flow of singles and collaborations. “I always have a lot of ideas, most don’t even see light. I use my travel time to start concepts. Being able to work with so many other artists helps – I’m constantly inspired by what they’re doing, it motivates me to keep pace.” It’s a work ethic that has put him at the forefront of EDM, and one which is inherently rooted in the spirit of collaboration.
Collaboration, as it happens, is an essential facet of his process and a major reason for his resounding success. This is due in part to frequent collaborator and friend, Afrojack. “Nick brought me onto his label back in 2012. We released Prutataaa together and it was a local smash.” Since then, the two heavyweights have built a successful creative partnership, one which R3HAB recognises as essential in the scope of his career. “He tapped me to remix Give Me Everything with Ne-Yo and Pitbull after that, which was a huge moment for me.” Their most recent work together was the official anthem of this year’s Tomorrowland, Worlds On Fire, but more significantly a homecoming of sorts for R3HAB and Afrojack. It is the first time they’ve worked together in over a decade. The result is triumphant. It’s the sort of euphoric anthem with just the right pang of nostalgia to serve as a pitch-perfect soundtrack for Tomorrowland’s post-pandemic return. To round off the epic track, the duo looked toward alt-pop talent Au/Ra to lend her voice, a voice R3HAB describes as “mesmerising”. “Worlds On Fire is a bit of an apocalyptic concept, and with Au/Ra’s delivery you can see it all unfolding. I don’t think anyone else could deliver it better.” Au/Ra’s presence on Worlds On Fire puts us onto the topic of rising talent. “I’ve benefited from leaders before me giving me chances, it’s the least I can do to follow in their footsteps,” R3HAB says. It’s clear that he recognises how he’s gotten to where he is today, and it’s through projects like his label CYB3RPVNK that he’s continuing the cycle of fostering emerging talent. “As I get to host more shows this year, I’ll be able to showcase new talent. And there might be some records in the works with newer names in the industry.”
R3HAB’s love of creative synergy between himself and the people he works with has made him a particular go-to for big name pop artists seeking a festival ready remix. He’s arguably one of the most prolific remixers around today, having lent his skills to everyone from Katy Perry to Rammstein. “Remixing feels like another form of collaboration to me,” he says, noting that when it comes to a remix, the process is anything but insular. “It’s always an honour, and I carry the responsibility to not only add my signature sound, but also keep it true to their vision. The original artist trusts me to bring a new sound to their most treasured possession, their record.” This means that he’s a lot more selective about remixes than one might think. “One important part of the process is to only take on remix projects if I’m sure I can add to it constructively. I will make sure the artist understands my approach before I finish.”
These sentiments which shape R3HAB the collaborator and R3HAB the remixer bleed over into his solo work. He’s quite fond of a well selected sample, often interpolating entire melodies from forgotten gems and old school classics in his music. “Flipping older records brings me back to my early days as a DJ. I love the nostalgia and memories, but you also can’t live in the past.” My Pony, one of his recent singles, samples the iconic Pony by Ginuwine. “It’s fun to bring the familiarity of an older record to the current moment, in a delivery that’s new and unexpected.” When asked why now was the right time to resurrect the track, he shared that the process behind the song has actually been a long haul. “My Pony has been in the works for a few years and has gone through many different phases. When I have an idea, I just have to make it happen. Inspiration strikes, and you have to catch it in the moment.” One of those ideas is Sway My Way, featuring vocalist Amy Shark. A laid back, languid baile funk by way of tech house track, Sway My Way sees R3HAB pull from another classic, Bic Runga’s Sway and came about “in much less time” than My Pony. It’s also a distinct shift toward a more relaxed approach to his usually propulsive tech house, something that R3HAB assures us is likely to turn on its head at any given moment. “I think my ‘current sound’ is a constantly moving needle. The pandemic did push the needle a bit toward more chill records, but as the world opens up again, you’ll hear sounds that are all across the board.”
On the subject of the pandemic, we were naturally curious to find out how an artist as busy and thriving as R3HAB coped with the closure of clubs and dance floors across the world. “After two years of laying low, people need to let go and enjoy life,” he muses. Naturally, the answer lies in the music. “There will always be crazy headlines and heartbreaking stories, but it’s not our responsibility to carry that weight all the time. Dance music is designed to pull listeners into the moment, exactly where they are, and let themselves reconnect.” It’s a perspective that R3HAB promises us will inform the direction of whatever comes next for him. Right now, that’s a bevy of live performances, “dates all across the States. More shows in Asia,” to be exact. When asked what we expect from his upcoming shows, he’s coy. “I approach each set list with the specific festival or city in mind, which makes it hard to tease more generally.” As for that notoriously jam packed release schedule? He leaves us with a simple, albeit powerful, thought: “Maybe it’s time to drop an album…”
Listen to Weekend On A Tuesday by R3HAB with Laidback Luke below.